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Ask Tufts Experts January 2019 Issue

Q. What is the difference between raw sugar and the regular white sugar I’m used to?

Image © Martin Barraud | Getty Images

White sugar and raw sugar look the same to your metabolism.

A. “Sugar is sugar,” says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, senior scientist at the HNRCA and executive editor of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter. “All sugar is made by extracting juice from sugar beet or sugar cane plants, then cleaning, crystallizing, and removing molasses. The final product may differ in crystal size or molasses content, but, chemically and nutritionally, all of these sugars are the same. When it comes to digestion and metabolism, your body cannot tell the difference between raw sugar, white sugar, and any other kind of sugar.”

“Where raw and white sugar differ is in processing and flavor. Producing white sugar takes more steps (and several chemicals like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and calcium hydroxide) to absorb impurities and prevent browning. Raw sugars like cane, turbinado, and demerara are less processed, and the molasses gives them a brown color and a richer taste. Muscovado sugar (which is dark, sticky, and good for barbecue sauce and marinades) is a minimally-processed, unrefined cane sugar.”

“While raw sugar may be a bit more environmentally friendly, and some people prefer the taste, it is associated with the same negative health effects as any other sweetener.”

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